The True Face of Islam: Essays on Islam and Modernity in Indonesia

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llectual life is rich and vibrant, it is little known elsewhere, primarily because most Indonesian scholars write in the Indonesian language and not in English.

Among the most well-known Indonesian writers on Islam is Nurcholish Madjid, rector of the Paramadina University, Jakarta. This collection of essays is the first major English translation of Madjid’s writings. The essays cover a diverse range of issues but are shaped by a common concern for an understanding of Islam that takes into account the myriad challenges that Indonesia is today faced with. They reflect Madjid’s quest for developing a contextually relevant interpretation of Islam that, departing from traditional notions in some significant respects, can help in the process
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The first sila or ‘principle’ lays down belief in the one God as binding on all citizens. Hence, Indonesia is neither a theocratic nor a secular state, but somewhat in between the two. Pancasila also mandates the unity of Indonesia, democratic rule and social justice, all of which, Madjid writes, are in harmony with the principles of the different religions practised in Indonesia. Seeking ‘Islamic’ sanction for Pancasila, he likens it to the treaty of Medina between the Prophet and the Jews, which guaranteed freedom of religion and allowed for people of different faiths to work together for the defence of Medina. Linked to this appeal for a pluralist Indonesia is Madjid’s critique of the post-Qur’anic notion of the world being divided into two antagonistic spheres – dar al-islam (i.e. the region in which Islam prevails) and dar al-harb (i.e. the region in which kufr prevails and as such is at war with dar al-islam). In their place, he invokes the Qur’anic notion of dar al-islam (‘the abode of peace’), which he sees as a society based on peace and social justice for all. Madjid regards Pancasila as working in the direction of establishing such a society, and that is why he argues that a Pancasila state, rather than an Islamic state, is the best available system for Indonesia.

Madjid is also a fervent champion of harmonious relations between
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